Doctoral Degrees Expanded Career Horizons for Tasia Cerezo and David Ortendahl
“Did I mention I never intended to go to college, better yet have a doctorate?!,” asks Tasia Cerezo EdD ‘20? Today, Cerezo is Director, Youth Employment, Curriculum and Training at Commonwealth Corporation, which partners with industry to address the need for highly skilled employees and creates pathways to jobs for youth and adults in Massachusetts. “I was actually running from education,” she writes, “but couldn't get away.”
A first-generation student whose father served in the military and mother ran a non-profit organization, Cerezo moved to Massachusetts from Miami Gardens, Florida, after being accepted to the AmeriCorp program. Coordinating a service-learning trip for college students, she initially thought, “Higher education? Never again.” Then, she became director of a teen center where the focus was supposed to be on activities but what students really wanted was support in applying to college. “I went to work in a community college, and never looked back,” she recalled. “Education kind of found me.”
For someone who never initially envisioned herself attending college, Cerezo might easily have been satisfied with the bachelor’s degree in psychology and MEd in Community Engagement she already had on her resume. Instead, she says, “When I found the [EdD] program at Regis, I thought it might be too good to be true. A program with weekend classes, instructors with similar backgrounds (i.e. first-generation, women, a woman of color as the director), and, most importantly, a cohort-based program. My master’s program was cohort-based and I liked the opportunity to go through a program with a set of people - it felt like a community I could lean into.”
Like Cerezo, David B. Ortendahl, EdD ’24, Executive Director, Corporate Relations at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) did not initially envision a career in education. With interests in music, theatre and dance, his plan was to run a theatre. As an undergraduate in Western Massachusetts, Ortendahl served as a student leader and trustee and arranged a marketing internship with a museum.
“These opportunities showed me that working at a college was actually a viable option for a career,” he reflects, “and that my desire to blend mission-driven work with business could live within education as well.”
After receiving bachelor’s degrees in both Business Administration and Arts Management, Ortendahl went on for his MBA—but he didn’t stop there. For years, he deliberated about pursuing a doctoral degree balancing theory and practice in his educational pursuits. At Regis, he found a program which aligned not only with his career goals but his personal values in the EdD in Higher Education Leadership.
“To me, it is ideal as it blends both independent learning and research with cohort-based discussion with other professionals in the region,” he explained. “For me, some of the best moments happen between our Saturday classes when we meet on the weekends. Gathering together for lunch, supporting each other's presentations or doing group work is a really nice opportunity to have. The opportunity to talk about families, friends, and work outside of the classroom while breaking bread together is really impactful and I value that time with my classmates.”
And, Ortendahl adds, the program strongly aligned with his values. “The last line of Regis' mission to educate the whole person, pursue excellence, and serve well truly appealed to me as a person of faith who has a desire to serve members of my communities well.”
In July, he added the title of Co-Vice President at The Network for Academic Corporate Relations Officers (NACRO), which serves the professional development community in higher education and industry. As Ortendahl prepared to begin writing his dissertation, he was thinking about the future, planning to apply his degree to corporate relations and its impact in student success.
As a graduate, Cerezo reflected on the role her doctoral studies have played in her career so far: “I think my EdD created a solid foundation for me in the way of opportunities and networking while also teaching me that higher education is also a business which wasn't something I had processed before.”
There are two paths where she believes her EdD might lead her. The first is as president of a community college; the second as the founder of a non-profit. She recalled her mother’s non-profit organization, where holiday meals were served in the parking lot and she was pressed into service tutoring peers. Today, she is already closer toward her goal of launching a shelter. Meryl’s Place will be named for her aunt who she lost in a car accident last year and who wanted a place where young people who had aged out of Department of Children and Families (DCF) services could call home. Working in social services, foster parenting children and going through the adoption process as a parent, Cerezo “saw the opportunity to achieve a dream for all of us while filling a need in our community.” Her wife, Marisol, also works in residential shelter programming.
In the meantime, she continues to ride the wave of a twisting, mercurial but fulfilling career. “Simply put, the opportunity to fill the gaps that existed for me drives my work,” she reflects. “I never thought I would be in workforce development but, it all comes together nicely in a way I couldn't have written myself.”